To test the hypothesis that adrenal androgen secretion is more easily suppressed than is cortisol secretion by glucocorticoids, we examined the dose-response relationship for suppression of serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHA), DHA sulfate (DHAS), testosterone, and cortisol by dexamethasone. Nine hirsute women received daily doses of dexamethasone, starting with 0.1 mg and increasing by 0.1-mg increments every 4 weeks, until the cortisol response to ACTH was reduced to 20% or less of the response before treatment. Serum hormone levels were measured at each dexamethasone dose before and after iv administration of 25 U synthetic ACTH. Although low doses of dexamethasone caused a similar suppression of basal cortisol, DHA, and DHAS levels, ACTH-stimulated DHA levels were suppressed to a greater extent than ACTH-stimulated cortisol levels. Higher dexamethasone doses did not result in a significant difference between the degree of cortisol and adrenal androgen suppression, as near-maximal suppression occurred for all three hormones. Maximal suppression of basal testosterone levels occurred at or below the dexamethasone dose of 0.3 mg. We conclude that the adrenal androgen secretory capacity is more sensitive to suppression by dexamethasone than is the adrenal cortisol secretory capacity. Furthermore, glucocorticoid therapy for hirsutism need not achieve complete cortisol suppression to effect a major reduction in adrenal androgen levels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Clinical Biochemistry
- Biochemistry, medical